bokeh-snail-photography-1
How to Be a Malacologist
by Stephanie L. Harper

Remember when
your child’s heart led your head
like a garden snail’s head leads its footed belly.

Think back to when you were seven
& your adopted pet / school project, Kiddo,
gnawed away at a slice of banana on a glass slide
as you watched, thunderstruck, from beneath him
(find out on Wikipedia that he was using his radula
a structure akin to a tongue used by mollusks to feed).

Recall how proud you were of Kiddo when he not only lost
the school snail race, but redefined it, by turning around
at the half-way point, staying in his own lane, & crossing
the start-line before any of the other snails reached the finish.

Wonder why your teacher didn’t mention anything about Kiddo
& his compatriots being hermaphrodites, or how (if they chose)
they could all be both father & mother to their tiny-shelled progeny,
& realize how simple it would have been for her to call a snail’s powerful,
innate mechanism of retracting its tentacles into its head for protection
by its technical name: invagination.

Then, understand, finally, that if you’d been born with the ability
to operate yourself like a puppet, & pull yourself outside-in
by drawing your head down into your belly & out
through your foot, to invert your once-vibrant
body into an empty sock, how many times
you would have done exactly that.

First published in Panoply.  

Photo by Katarzyna Załużna, used by permission. Read about the photographer’s portraits of snails at mymodernmet.com

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When a friend and fellow poet asked me in a recent interview, “From where or what do your poems sprout?” I experienced this question viscerally. Poems really do sprout, don’t they? I mean, for me, whether they come up silently or explosively, and whether they arise all sallow and reedy, vivid and sweet, or tender, or sour, or even barely perceptible—at some point prior to their births, they are pollinated by my virtue of my orientation toward Life and how I apprehend, synthesize, store and/or ruminate on every experience—of my former and current human relationships; of all that being a mother means; of my interactions with animals, mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, oceans, rocks and sand, the sky and its heavenly bodies, manmade physical/technological and social infrastructures, literary, visual, and performed arts . . . Each one then germinates beneath the soil until something incites it to erupt: Whether the something is a disquietingly still and protracted fallow interlude, an intense or even haunting dream, an epic bout of insomnia that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, or one of the millions of much more innocuous ways I might be moved in the course of a day, what it never is, is predictable. In the whole scheme of things, though, it’s become dependable.

HARPER1

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephanie L. Harper is a recently transplanted Oregonian living in Indianapolis, Indiana. Harper is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of two poetry chapbooks: This Being Done and The Death’s-Head’s Testament. Her poems appear in Slippery Elm Literary JournalPanoply, Isacoustic*, Cathexis Northwest, Riggwelter Press, Moonchild Magazine, Dust Poetry, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. Visit her online at slharperpoetry.com.